If you’ve been anywhere near a television screen for even five seconds recently, you’ll know that the seventh season of American Idol starts tomorrow. You’re familiar with the drill: a series of awful auditions followed by some trying-too-hard-to-be-vicious critique from Simon Cowell and his scary pecs, Paula Abdul‘s Southern Comfort ‘n’ cough syrup ramblings, and Randy Jackson saying whatever the hell Randy Jackson says, punctuated by a reference to canines. All that, plus the upbeat, sexually ambiguous stylings of Ryan Seacrest. Please set us on fire now.
That said, you have to acknowledge the instant credibility with which AI invests its contestants. Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, and, to some degree, Clay Aiken have all gone on to top the charts, receive respectable reviews, and triumph on Broadway while garnering major industry awards. Because of this, Idol is—inasmuch as anything that has only been around for six years—an institution that has shown few signs of aging or slowing down.
Yet it seems that a troubling trend is emerging for some of AI‘s most popular graduates. Within the past few weeks, two winners and one runner-up have been dropped by their record labels. Following an arrest, one former contestant is expected to play up her drug dependency and troubled childhood for the cameras on Celebrity Rehab, VH1′s newest assault on taste and standards. With the exception of the doper, the other three seemed to have as much promise as more successful winners. What went wrong? Is there a scientific formula to determine who will win and succeed, or win and implode?